s162e01 Fourth Sunday of Easter 6/5/01

"They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat ... God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Revelation 7:16,17

I point out that the reading for the first lesson, from the Acts of the Apostles, besides being a story about the raising of Dorcas by Peter, also serves as as lead into the story of the great conversion of St Peter where he is told in no uncertain terms, not to call others un-clean - that God shows no partiality. Actually the story is so long - much longer than the story of the conversion of St Paul - that we only get snippets here and there. The first reading for Easter Day was a conclusion to this story, and we have in next week's first reading, Peter explaining to those in Jerusalem how his change of heart came about.

And it is important to realise that despite Peter being able to do great things, even to raising people from the dead, he still had to learn, he still had to come to appreciate the broadness of God's mercy towards all people.

And we too might take this as an object lesson - for all the wonderful things we might have achieved in this life - we too may be surprised at the broadness of God's mercy for all people. Indeed we might conclude that in the scale of the relative importance of things, raising people from the dead might be of lesser importance than looking for God in others.

As we read the book the Acts of the Apostles, we cannot but come to the conclusion that the author was convinced that what he described as happening was in fact not the Acts of the Apostles but the Acts of God. None of the participants could claim anything. Peter was called to Joppa, later to the house of Cornelius. It was all God's doing, and nothing to do with what Peter may or may not have wanted. Indeed, had he had the courage of his own convictions he wouldn't have initially ever contemplated going into the house of Cornelius the Gentile.

I began my sermon with the text from Revelation: "They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat ... God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." This year as we go through the gospel of Luke, suspended for a time because of Easter, again and again we find the theme of God blessing the poor, the outcast and the alien. In the words of the Magnificat, penned by Luke: "He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1:51-53). And we can be complacent and think, Oh! this is just St Luke's particular "hobby-horse". But no we have it here in the Revelation to St John too. In the kingdom, the rich and powerful are absent. It is those who have hungered and thirsted and cried who find a place - and I suspect a number of these will not be Christians either.

For I suppose I've always thought it odd that St John is asked who these people are, those who are "robed in white". Surely the elder who asked St John would have known if John knew them or not. If they were people from John's own community of faith then John would have a chance of recognising some of them. If, like Jesus whose appearance was changed after his resurrection, so these persons appearance was changed, then the elder surely would have known that John could not possibly have recognised any of them. No, I suspect that the question was asked deliberately. John's answers were not unexpected, but they were significant never the less. John didn't know them. They were not of his circle of acquaintances, not of his community of faith. Again, God's mercy is wider ... than our circle of acquaintances, our community of faith ... God's mercy extends to all who hunger and thirst and those for whom circumstances move them to tears in this life.

And this is good news from a couple of accounts. We often think of those caught up in natural disasters, circumstances quite beyond anything of their own making. What happens to people such as these? Here we find good news that those who find their predicament overwhelming have a special place in God's kingdom. We might well pray that we might not find death overtakes us - "from sudden death" in the words of the 1662 Litany, changed to "dying unprepared" in APBA (p188). As I say, we might well pray these words - that we might have occasion to be reconciled with those whom we have been estranged. But it is only our unwillingness to be reconciled that will lead us to decline the invitation to enter. The manner of our death is immaterial, indeed for those who die, hungry, thirsty, and weeping, whoever they are, the Lord has a special place.

But on the other side of things, in the economy of God, the old adage of "it's not what you know but who you know" doesn't hold sway either - either way. It's not "what you know" or "who you know". The kingdom is not protected by people inflicting tests on us. We don't get into heaven by our academic status or by how well we "know" Jesus, or his disciples. You don't have to impress me, or the bishop, or even Jesus ... We have to see God in others ...

 

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